By: Hannah Rackham
My music teacher bias is going to be obvious, but I want to submit a public disclaimer: I hold STEM teachers in high regard. Math and science done well are as beautiful to me as art done well. After all, according to Einstein, “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.” I’ve had a handful of really wonderful math and science teachers and I’ll be forever grateful to them for expanding the conceptual boundaries of my artsy world, even if I still feel like “imaginary numbers” are a sly cop out.
Here’s the gist of the bill: increase salaries for “eligible” (read STEM) teachers to try and keep more STEM professionals in education rather than other more potentially lucrative careers in the private sector. Part of the bill’s definition of “eligible teachers” are those who “[have] an assignment to teach: a secondary school level mathematics course; integrated science in grade seven or eight; chemistry; physics; or computer science” (link to the full text of the bill—http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/HB0203.html). Those teachers are up for a raise of about $10,000 in the next six years—which will cost the state $13.4 million in 2016 and $42.4 million by the time the raise is in full swing.
The mentality, as I understand it, is that since STEM teachers have many other opportunities to make a career in non-educational venues, the government is opting to raise their salaries to incentivize more highly qualified professionals to stay in the schools and educate our future. Completely reasonable. So why not up the salary of the high school choir director with doctorate degrees in choral conducting? The difference is that for a musician, a career in the performing arts is less stable than a career in education. Essentially, teaching is the lowest priority option for STEM professionals and generally the most viable career option for music professionals. So, since it’s the artists’ best option and the scientists’ worst option, scientists will get paid $10,000 more than artists for doing the same job and having (arguably) the same impact on the rising generation.
Now, lest you think that I’m bitter about others’ good fortune—I’m a huge advocate of increasing teacher salaries in general. Our cultural priorities (as reflected in where we put our money) are most often quite misaligned in my opinion and I’m glad to see society choosing to more adequately compensate its educators for the invaluable (and occasionally thankless) service they provide. I’m delighted that math, science, technology, and engineering teachers will be paid better. The sticky part of this whole thing is asking at what cost to the rest of the teachers? What does it do to a culture or society to overtly value certain trades and subjects above others? (Cue every dystopian book or movie ever.)
David Fullmer, western division president of the National Association for Music Education, expressed it this way: “We are concerned as music educators that there may be some unintended consequences by the passage of this bill. . . . We worry about the message it’s sending to the other really fine educators in fine arts, language arts, [and] world languages . . . [an] unintended message that these subjects are somehow secondary and less important.” Additionally, the Utah Music Educators Association President Samuel Tsugawa cautioned against the bill’s potential to “affect teacher recruiting and retention, student enrollment and participation, force districts to re-allocate time and money away from non-STEM courses, and create an unhealthy competitive environment between teachers.” The idealist in me hopes that none of those negative side effects will play out, but the idealist in me has been wrong before.
So, there you have it folks—Utah’s House Bill 203 will go in effect this July. Can’t say I’m particularly thrilled about it overall, but when life gives you potentially style-cramping legislation, you keep voting anyway and make lemonade.
As always, your comments and questions are more than welcome. Thanks for reading!